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Lesson 8: Types of Paragraphs

Before you actually start writing your paper, it's worth spending a bit of time thinking about paragraph patterns.

A paragraph is a collection of related sentences. But often students don’t take the time to analyze how, exactly, those sentences are related. Studying the following patterns may help.

Narrative Paragraphs

A narrative paragraph tells a story in chronological order. Here are some examples:


Joe opened the door and stepped quietly inside the bedroom, pausing for a moment to let his eyes adjust to the darkness. On the bed, Christine appeared to be sleeping soundly. He glided past her, opened the top drawer of her dresser, and felt with his hands for the necklace.

Suddenly, he felt himself jerked backward off his feet. Christine was behind him. She had looped a belt around his neck and now she was tightening it with deadly force. Joe kicked his legs and gripped at his throat, but her grip on the belt was too strong. She was breathing heavily, but she didn’t say a word.



The organizing principle of narrative paragraphs is chronological order. In other words, first things first, second things second. The reader has an easy time following it because she knows that the next sentence will tell her what happens next.

Topic Sentence Paragraphs

In contrast, a topic sentence paragraph begins with a topic sentence, and every other sentence in the paragraph provides "evidence" that the topic sentence is true.

Here is an exmaple:


It was a beautiful spring day. The birds were chirping and butterflies flitted through the air. Cloud castles, their edges frayed by lofty breezes, drifted lazily across the sky. A bunny rabbit hopped among the wildflowers.



The above paragraph makes sense because every sentence (after the first) provides evidence that it was indeed “a beautiful spring day.” This organizing principle makes the paragraph easy to read; it is coherent; the reader does not have to make mental leaps from one topic to another.

Check Your Understanding

Read both paragraphs below.

Be prepared to discuss your answers in class.


By 1991, the Soviet system of control was falling apart. Several satellite states had already declared their independence. The economy was in tatters. Ordinary people—workers and housewives—were openly protesting in the streets, demanding democratic reforms. Pravda, the leading Soviet newspaper, published several editorials critical of the communist party. There were even questions about the loyalty of the KGB and the army.




German troops started pushing into the Soviet Union in June of 1941. Moving rapidly, they took several small towns. In each town, they paused long enough to execute some Jews. The retreating Soviets resorted to scorched earth tactics. They burned crops, slaughtered livestock, and blew up their own railroad tracks—all in a desperate attempt to slow the Nazi advance.


What kind of paragraph should you use?

Academic papers, just like fiction, use a mix of different paragraph patterns. Narrative paragraphs may be good for providing the background on a topic, while topic sentence paragraphs are often better suited for making a series of arguments.

That said, your three body paragraphs will almost certainly be topic sentence paragraphs. In fact, you will be writing a special kind of topic sentence paragraph—a paragraph I call "The Sandwich".

"The Sandwich" is the topic of the next lesson.


Take the Quia quiz that accompanies this lesson.



Congratulations! You're done with this lesson.